Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bradbury's contradicting perceptions

I found Bradbury's book to be disturbingly prophetic, especially as a former junior high English teacher - in the nine years I spent in the classroom, I watched students steadily become fixated with iPods and cellphones, so possessive of them that they would break down in tears if their tiny gadgets, so much like the Seashells, were confiscated in areas where/at times when they were not approved; I listened to the students have extremely detailed, nearly philosophical, discussions of video games - echoes of Mildred's insistence that her relationships with the people in her living room walls are real; and I'm sure more of their homes had flat-screen TVs reminiscent of Bradbury's "video walls" than did not. I felt a desperate sadness as I read the book, wondering if/when our society will ever break itself of its craving for instant, spoon-fed gratification of the senses rather than intelligence or imagination. At once, much of the information emanating from our computers and television screens caters to the lowest common denominator in that it only scratches the surface of any topic, and many of those topics are coarse. Yet the presentation of the information has now become a blitzkrieg of color, noise, and speed.
Thus is the battle (okay, one of many) that teachers face, and it is NOT one that can be won by "hand[ing] them a book, that's all" or by "giv[ing] one of my books," as Bradbury states in the interview at the end of the anniversary edition, "to a twelve-year-old boy who doesn't like to read," because "that boy will fall in love and start to read." Those are weirdly idealistic and naive statements for Bradbury to make, especially since he is responsible for the darkly sophisticated forecast that is Farenheit 451. However, I don't even know that an apocalyptic event can shake our culture of its addiction to brain candy, as Bradbury suggests in his novel. The aftermath of September 11 brought about a resurgence of a focus on the family and spending quality time together - of really seeing and hearing each other - but that, in large part, has passed. So I must respectfully disagree with Bradbury's extremely oversimplified solution to the problem of our culture being "increasingly dominated by the visual." And education is not the main problem, as he says; it's society. Really and truly, those teachers who enter their profession sincerely and not for the summer vacations, don't want or need extra pay; they need HELP. They need support from parents in presenting a consistent message of the importance of the printed word in their homes. They need support from politicians in the form of many, many more colleagues and many, many more resources. They need support from the public as a whole in facilitating a shift away from effortless entertainment toward an intellectual pursuit that can be so richly fulfilling in its challenges, i.e. READING A BOOK!

1 comment:

Adam said...

If the kids are having a philosophical discussion about a video game, that should be a positive sign. A lot of theorists see interactive media joining the traditional arts. I think Bradbury was more worried about content than medium - its better to watch a truly thought-provoking TV show than read a mindless book.

This event is part of The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.